I started writing this post a few months ago. I'm wrapping up the draft tonight as a part of an effort to pick up the pace on The Boggs Blog. I've been reading lots of good stuff from David Cummings, Chris Dixon, and others - so I feel compelled to offer my humble $.02 to the start-up blog echo chamber.
There are hundreds of highly influential inputs that factor into the "successful start-up" equation: Can you build a product? Can you build a team? Will the dogs eat the dog food? And so on.
Founders face many challenging hurdles to jump and decisions to make in the very early days of a company. And there are lots of blog posts about start-up advice that cover most of these issues. But I haven't read as much about the underlying life decisions that put the founder in a position to start the company and address the issues in the first place.
Here are a few decisions that Kelly and I have made over the years that (somewhat unintentionally) put me in a position to start a start-up in Jan 2010:
Kelly and I bought our first house in 2004 - back when redongo loans were the norm. I was 23 and Kelly was 24 and neither of us made much money, but we were "approved" for a significant loan. Thank goodness we were smart enough to realize that spending $300k on our first house was a bad idea.
Instead, we bought a very modest starter home in a nice neighborhood. We still live in it and probably will for a while. A brilliant decision
Our personal monthly burn rate is minuscule. Our mortgage is less than $800 per month. We own Kelly's car and my truck out right - so no car payment. My monthly student loan payment from business school is the equivalent of a small car payment.
If we were paying $1500 per month on a mortgage and another several hundred dollars per month on a car, then there is no way that I could have gone as long as I have without a market salary. And if I *had* to work full-time to make ends meet, then there was no way that I could have started Argyle.
Simply put, your ability to start a company directly correlates with your ability to not get paid.
Working at a Start-Up
My first "real" job was at a start-up - I spent 4 years helping a company grow from a handful of employees and customers to 40+ employees and hundreds of customers by the time I left to go to business school. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was working an apprenticeship that would pay enormous dividends later on. Because my prior start-up experience, I've been able to loosely execute a well-known playbook at Argyle. This is my first time as a CEO, but not my first rodeo. Makes a huge difference.